The upcoming winter months bring a changed focus in the level of responsibility for Department of Transportation maintenance crews. Snow and ice control equipment and operators are on call 24 hours a day in order to be able to address winter road conditions in a timely manner. As in past years, WSDOT Maintenance crews will work in partnership with the Washington State Patrol relative to conditions along the highways.
Maintenance Crews Cover Seven Counties
In Northeastern Washington, state highway snow removal is handled by maintenance crews under the jurisdiction of D.O.T./Eastern Region. The region encompasses seven counties: Adams, Ferry, Lincoln, Spokane, Stevens, Pend Oreille, and Whitman. There are 1,577 centerline miles of state highways within the Eastern Region boundaries. To keep the roads clear and safe for travel, the WSDOT uses over 100 pieces of equipment in the Eastern Region. Most of these vehicles are combination snowplow/sander trucks. Maintenance crews and equipment are based in Spokane, Colfax, Colville, and Davenport with additional equipment sheds located at strategic points throughout the region.
This winter season brings some new challenges to the Eastern Region–snow and ice operations. Financial and workforce limitations necessitate achieving greater efficiencies in the snow removal/ice control program. The program and associated decisions determine the frequency of snow removal and ice control on state highways based on the functional class of the various highway sections.
Functional Class of a State Highway
Average daily traffic counts determine the functional class of a state highway and its position in the snow and ice priority list. Urban freeways and primary arterials receive the greatest emphasis in this program followed by rural facilities. Rural collector highways have the lowest priority. Each section of highway in the Eastern Region has been assigned a frequency of service for snow and ice attention.
Also, snow removal and ice control efficiency is related directly to staffing levels and the ability to keep equipment in use on the highway. The Eastern Region will primarily rely on existing permanent staff for snow and ice control. The hiring of temporary personnel serving on an "on-call" basis will be done to augment the winter highway coverage only when severe conditions dictate additional needs. Although more economical than staffing maintenance facilities 20 to 24 hours per day, this "on-call" process can result in longer response times to problem areas during severe weather conditions.
Compact Snow and Ice
During the winter season, there are many times when the snow is falling faster than the plows can clear the highways. When this occurs, the cold snow bonds to the warm pavement and is packed down by passing vehicles. This "compact snow and ice" condition can be very treacherous and motorists are advised to lower their speed accordingly. When the snow becomes compacted, plows are unable to remove it completely from the roadway. Traction sand is then applied to the highway surface to make the road more passable. Crews will concentrate sand distribution at intersections, curves, on bridge surfaces, and hills under most conditions.
In the Spokane area, air quality continues to be an important issue and dust from traction sand on the roadway is a major concern. To control that dust, traction sand is now removed from the roadway during dry periods, especially along Interstate 90. These efforts are helping the community avoid violations of the PM10 regulations that are now in effect in Spokane County.
Winter Travel Information
Motorists who are planning winter travel should be aware of changing weather and road conditions and carry emergency equipment such as tire chains, warm blankets, extra clothes, flashlight, first aid kit, etc. Information on all mountain passes in Washington State is available from the Department of Transportation by calling the toll-free number (800)695-7623.